Popular children's author Sally Lloyd-Jones gets us in the spirit of the holidays by recalling the Christmases of her youth in Africa and England. Her book, "Song of the Stars," recounts the birth of Christ.
Popular children's author Sally Lloyd-Jones gets us in the spirit of the holidays by recalling the Christmases of her youth in Africa and England. Her book, "Song of the Stars," recounts the birth of Christ.
Bob: One of the challenges that families often face during the Christmas season is how toor even whether to blend in the holiday traditions with the biblical story of Christmas. Here’s some thoughts from author, Sally Lloyd-Jones.
Sally: You know, I became a Christian when I was four. I am sure, the first four years of my life, we were—it was more Santa Claus. Father Christmas was the big person looming in your life when you’re little. I suppose the excitement of: “He’s coming!” and everything like that—that’s not so dissimilar to what you—actually, is the truth of Christmas. It’s exciting; because your rescuer is coming, which is much more exciting than “Santa’s coming with presents.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, December 7th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Sally Lloyd-Jones joins us today to talk about how we keep Jesus at the center of the Christmas season. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
Dennis: How’s your English accent, Bob? [Laughter]
Bob: Terrible. [Laughter]
Dennis: You have a great impersonation of Jerry Falwell.
Bob: Yes; but—
Dennis: Can I hear your Sally Lloyd-Jones? [Laughter]
Bob: I’m not that clever! [Laughter] No; mine would be [speaking with English accent]:
Look at her, a person of the gutters,
Condemned by every syllable she utters.
By right, she ought to be taken out and hung
For the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue!
Sally: That’s brilliant.
Bob: Thank you.
Barbara: I know that one.
Bob: Do you?
Barbara: I watched that over, and over, and over.
Bob: That’s Henry Higgins. Don’t you know Henry Higgins?
Sally: Of course! I was just testing. [Laughter]
Bob: If you could have anybody come to your house and tell the Christmas story to your kids at Christmas time, who would—wouldn’t you want Sally Lloyd-Jones coming and telling the Christmas story to your kids?
Dennis: I think a wonderful story I’d love to hear—just to hear George tell the Christmas story.
Barbara: Oh, A Wonderful Life! [Laughter]
Bob: George Bailey?
Bob: [Imitating George Bailey] “Help me, Clarence. Help me! [Laughter] Get me out of here!”
Sally: He’s very good; isn’t he?
Bob: [Imitating George Bailey] “Get me back to my wife and kids!”
Sally: You love films, I guess.
Bob: I do; I do.
Dennis: When it’s Christmas time—this happens to Bob every 11 months—so just put up with it if you would. [Laughter]
I just introduced, very casually there, Sally Lloyd-Jones, who joins us again on FamilyLife Today. She was born and raised in Africa, schooled in England, lives in New York City. She is the New York Times author of a bestselling book—one of them she has written is called The Jesus Storybook Bible.
Bob: I think everybody listening to FamilyLife Today has The Jesus Storybook Bible—feels like. How many copies?
Sally: Two point five million.
Barbara: Then I think you’re right—it is everybody.
Bob: Everybody I run into—
Barbara: I have one, and I don’t have children at home. I have mine marked—I love it! [Laughter]
Sally: Oh. The most exciting thing to me is its now in 34 languages.
Bob: Oh, that’s wonderful.
Dennis: That’s cool!
Dennis: What’s your favorite language out of those 34?
Sally: Well, I’m really excited about Arabic—it’s just been translated into Arabic. What I love to say is, “I wrote a book I can’t read,”—[Laughter]—actually, three of them!
Dennis: And is it in Mandarin?
Sally: I think it is.
Bob: That’s great!
Dennis: That reaches a few people too.
Also joining us is my wife Barbara. Tell them about Sally’s book that we’re also talking about this Christmas.
Barbara: We’re talking about this book that she wrote for children for Christmas: Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story. I just think it’s a great idea to have books to read to your kids during the different seasons, because we have all these traditions that we do. I remember when we were raising our kids—there were certain books that we read, every season, that were favorites. I think this one will become a favorite of many families to read, year after year, with your children.
Bob: We had, in our library at home, it was called The Holiday Story Book. There were stories for every holiday of the year. So you’d open it and read one for Valentine’s Day or whatever. I never read any of them except the Christmas one. I remember it was a story of a car in an old car lot that was sitting there.
Nobody wanted to buy this old car—it was a clunker and barely ran. Apparently, as I remember it, Santa’s sleigh malfunctioned right over the car lot; and he had to hook up the reindeer to the car.
Sally: That’s very good.
Bob: All of a sudden, this old clunker of a car became Santa’s sleigh for the holidays. There was something about reading it that was kind of my Christmas rituals to get me ready for the holidays.
Barbara: It had a bit of a redemption story to it—that’s why it rang true.
Bob: There is something about story, at Christmastime, and the opportunity for parents to engage with their children around the Christmas story, that is meaningful on a whole variety of levels; isn’t it?
Sally: Yes; I love that tradition—like Barbara said. We love traditions; don’t we?
Sally: I love—you know, that we have several days before Christmas to get ready for Christmas. You have lots of opportunities.
Dennis: So how will you spend Christmas in New York City?
Sally: Well, the thing is—I end up in England, really—so I never have been in New York on Christmas day.
Dennis: Oh, New York City is delightful that time of year!
Dennis: I mean, Barbara and I have been there. There is definitely a nip in the air. That city is—
Sally: Oh, it’s magical.
Barbara: It is magical.
Dennis: It’s dressed up—it is really dressed up.
Sally: And again, talk about traditions—you have The Nutcracker you can go to every year.
Sally: You know, The Messiah—
Sally: —all these lovely things.
In England, one of the traditions that’s one of my favorites is Kings College Choir carols on Christmas Eve.
Barbara: That would be wonderful.
Sally: It’s broadcast on the radio. Apparently, it’s been broadcast since like, I think, the war—or even before. One of the stories I love is that—it’s a boy choir / a male voice choir. They have little boys who might be six/seven. The whole broadcast begins with Once in Royal David’s City; but the first verse is sung so low by one of the youngest boys. So they don’t get completely freaked out—the choir master chooses three boys and trains them. Just like maybe seconds before the broadcast begins, he taps the boy that he’s chosen on the head and he sings it; and he has no chance to get nervous. [Laughter]
Dennis: Are you kidding me?! All three of them will get nervous! [Laughter]
Sally: Yes; right! [Laughter] But it’s so beautiful—that voice—the pure voice of a young boy singing Once in Royal David’s City and the acoustics—to me, that’s one of the high points of Christmas.
Dennis: So what do you do in England for Christmas? Tell us how you celebrate.
Sally: You know, we do have the edge on everyone; because we know how to do Christmas. [Laughter]
Dennis: What’s that?!
Barbara: What is that edge? Yes; I want to know.
Sally: Because we have Christmas pudding—figgy pudding as Dickens would call it.
Dennis: Hold it; hold it! What’s that made of?—Christmas pudding?
Sally: It’s sounds horrid, but it’s delicious. I’m going to describe it, but you have to realize it’s delicious.
Sally: It’s got currents, raisins—see, your faces already—
Barbara: No; so far, so good—I love currents and raisins.
Sally: It’s got some liquor in it, but it gets burned away. [Laughter]
Dennis: This is why the English like it!! [Laughter]
Sally: And you have it with brandy butter. Oh, yes, there’s a lot of liquor in it. [Laughter]
Dennis: You’ve got brandy in it!
Sally: Is this allowed on your program?
Dennis: That’s what you have to do with your food in England. [Laughter]
Sally: It’s a merry Christmas. [Laughter]
Dennis: I’m sorry—I’m really sorry for that. We’ve been to England and your food—you got to cross the—
Barbara: —the Channel.
Dennis: —the English Channel—
Sally: But then, we also wear hats at Christmas—crowns / the paper crowns that come out of Christmas crackers. Now, you’re really lost; aren’t you? Christmas crackers—I don’t even know how to describe them.
Barbara: I know what they are.
Sally: You pull them, and they bang, and inside is a hat and a present. Then, we drop everything at 3:00—we go and listen to the Queen’s speech—
Bob: On Christmas Day?
Sally: —on Christmas Day. So, wherever you are with your Christmas meal, you stop everything—go and watch the Queen give a speech. She gives this incredible speech. You know, you have to really be reverent. Sometimes, the grandchildren are doing terribly naughty things, and my mother gives them a look. We all have to stand up when the anthem happens. This has happened—
Sally: —forever and ever.
Barbara: How long does—
Dennis: What does she speak on? I mean—
Barbara: That’s what I want to know. How long—
Sally: She’s amazing, actually. I mean, I’m a huge fan. If you think about how faithful she has been for how long—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Sally: Her whole idea about duty versus—you know—of course, I am a big fan of The Crown. Did you watch The Crown?
Barbara: Oh, yes, we did. It was wonderful.
Sally: I’m sorry; I’m going all over the place.
Dennis: Oh, yes; we did. That was very good.
Barbara: We thought it was—
Sally: I’m mad on it, because you really believe Claire Foy is Queen.
Dennis: You’re mad about it?
Sally: Mad, in a British way, is—
Barbara: —is crazy!
Dennis: I knew what you said! [Laughter]
Bob: Here’s my question for you—
Sally: They are very naughty, these people! [Laughter]
Bob: I want to know, if we could invite you over to everybody’s house to tell the Christmas story to our kids and grandkids, would you just pull out your book and read it to them?—or how would you engage a child in the story / the biblical story of Christmas if you were sitting down with them?
Sally: Well, I like, sometimes, to say, “When does Christmas begin?” and get them to sort of—it’s always good to ask them a question; because what you want to do is get them—as they say, you’re tuning your audience. Sometimes, I’ll resort to pantomime effects—so you’ll say/ask them a question; and they’ll answer. You say: “I am sorry I can’t hear you. Could you say it louder?”—until they are shouting. Then, if you’ve got parents there as well, you set up parents against the children. That way you have them where you want them.
And then I would say to them, “So, when do you think Christmas begins?” and they’ll tell you, “When the star goes in the sky,” “When Jesus is born,” “When…”—whatever they’re going to say. Hopefully, they won’t / none of them will say: “Actually, it begins even before there were stars in the sky / it begins even before there was anything. Before anything was there, God had a dream in His heart; and Christmas began in that dream,” and start there, because it’s not expected.
I always think the most important thing is to set up the longing and expectation, so that when Christmas day comes, we don’t just go, “Oh, it’s any old day.” We get the sense that God’s people were waiting, for thousands of years, for this and that this was a promise fulfilled. It’s not just a sweet story—it’s the most incredible thing about God breaking into history.
Bob: When you think about communicating biblical truth to kids, you want to make sure that the story is in a very broad context, not just an isolated story. Why is that?
Sally: I find that’s how my heart gets got. If I see it in the big scope / if I see that none of this is just happenstance—it’s all a plan and that it started with God’s—just the idea that God was planning to bless us before He made us, and He knew it would all go wrong; but He still made us—that’s what melts my heart. I think that’s the truth in the Bible; isn’t it? If you just take one story at a time, they’re wonderful; but it’s when you see them in the context of the big story and you see that it’s a love story, that’s when your heart gets changed.
Dennis: When you were a little girl, do you remember the time when Christmas, the story of Christmas, grabbed your heart and captured your imagination?
Sally: I don’t know if I remember exactly that. I knew I loved Christmas and I loved the fact that I knew Jesus was my best friend always, ever since I was four.
Dennis: You didn’t just celebrate Christmas in England, at that point; you went back to—
Sally: We were in Africa.
Sally: So, we were having—I don’t know if we were still doing hats, and eating Christmas pudding, and all that stuff. We probably went to the beach. I think that’s what we did on Christmas Day.
Dennis: So what country?
Sally: Uganda. First of all, Kampala; and then we moved to Nairobi and Kenya. So, Christmas, for me, was amidst wild animals and jungles, and that kind of—savannahs and stuff—
Bob: In a tropical climate, not where there’s snow falling.
Sally: No. And I do remember—actually, the first thing I do remember, when I came to England, was the first time I saw snow. I thought it was ice cream coming down. [Laughter]
Barbara: And you were how old?
Sally: I was probably six.
Barbara: Oh, amazing.
Bob: So, did the biblical story of Christmas compete in your heart with the traditions of Christmas?—with St. Nicholas, with Santa Claus, with all of that?
Sally: Yes; I mean, Father Christmas was the big person looming in your life when you’re little.
And you know, I became a Christian when I was four; so I’m sure, the first four years of my life, we were—it was more Santa Claus. But there’s something—I know there are big debates about whether you should have Santa Claus. I didn’t find it harmful at all. I never thought anything other than it was—I mean, I remember being devastated when I found out he wasn’t real; but I soon got over it.
Bob: So you were able to separate that that was fantasy and that the biblical story was history.
Sally: Yes; yes. I didn’t find that confusing.
Bob: Why do you think that was clear to you?
Sally: Because I suppose—I’d met Jesus and I knew He was my best friend—I wouldn’t want it any other way. There was something lovely about it—you know, the whole excitement. I suppose the excitement of, “He’s coming,” and everything like that—that’s not so dissimilar to what you—actually, is the truth of Christmas—it’s exciting because your rescue is coming, which is much more exciting than, “Santa’s coming with presents.”
Dennis: And He’s coming back!
Sally: Yes; yes!
Dennis: Not just His first advent—
Dennis: —but because the first Christmas occurred, we can look forward to His second advent.
Sally: Yes; and that is deep in us; isn’t it?—that longing for Him to come.
Dennis: It really is. Tell us how this book, A Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story, how it captures Christmas to young people.
Sally: Well, it’s interesting; because that one came because—as I was saying, I was in Africa as a little one. You know, my Christmas was in the wilds of Africa, and there’s no snow on the rooftops; but Christmas was coming. I was thinking—we know the story of Bethlehem and how it’s so busy and no one noticed Jesus and Mary and Joseph—but I was thinking about the animals and back to my childhood in Africa. I was thinking, “What if the animals knew, and the stars knew, and all the…” because they don’t have an argument with their Maker. We’re the only ones who have an argument with our Maker.
Dennis: [Laughter] That’s exactly right.
Sally: And they’re suffering; aren’t they?
Barbara: Right; because of us.
Sally: They’re suffering because of our sin and the fall, but why wouldn’t they have known?
So I thought, “Well, what if,”—and again, going back to that longing of, “He’s coming,”—I thought, “What if, that night, people didn’t know because they were too busy; but what if the animals did?”—that’s where this book came from. There’s a refrain: “It’s time. It’s time. At last, He’s coming!”
Barbara: I love that.
Bob: Barbara, did you have a hard time, when your kids were little, with the competition between the cultural trappings of Christmas and the spiritual message of Christmas?
Barbara: I don’t know that we had a hard time as much as we just did—we were very intentional about teaching what Christmas was about. We wanted our kids to understand that it was about Jesus and it was about His birth. We made putting the manger scene up sort of the focal point; but we didn’t dismiss Santa, and stockings, and things; because it was fun to pretend and do make-believe. We did all of that; but it was secondary to the real reason for Christmas so that, when our kids found out, I don’t think they were devastated.
Sally: What was central was the truth.
Barbara: Right, and I remember being disappointed, when I was a child, finding out that Santa wasn’t real; but I don’t think our kids were disappointed. I think they always knew that this story about Jesus was what it was really about. This [Santa] was just play—this was fun / this was pretend, and we all enjoyed it—but that wasn’t the real message.
Dennis: My recollection of Christmas was sprinting to the end, and putting together—
Barbara: You mean, as parents?—talking about—
Dennis: Yes, as parents. Yes; I just remember getting everything ready—the swing set that I was putting up, in the dark, on Christmas Eve—
Bob: You can’t get it out and start putting it up until the kids are in bed; right?
Barbara: Right; right.
Dennis: You can’t. And if I had it to do all over again, I think I’d have taken a deep breath; and I think I would have just been more in the moment and not been so frantic about trying to turn the entire Christmas day, especially Christmas morning, into this life-altering seismic experience for our kids. [Laughter]
Bob: —a production.
Dennis: And put a little more effort into enjoying them in the process and celebrating, as Sally is talking about, the real reason for Christmas—celebrating His coming.
Bob: A lot of parents will get out their Bible and turn to Luke 2, and they’ll read the familiar account of the shepherds, and maybe go to Matthew and read about the wise men; and they will wonder, having read that to their kids: “Did any of that sink in? Did I just read something that their eyes glazed over?” If they want this story to really come alive for their kids, and they’re not Sally Lloyd-Jones, what do they do?
Sally: Well, they know their children best. I’m just covering all my bases and saying, as a story-teller, what I would do is include all the days leading up to Christmas. Don’t rely on just Christmas; because one of the things I think is fun to do is set up a nativity—but don’t have Jesus in the nativity, and don’t have the shepherds, and don’t have the wise men—start introducing them. You know, you could talk about: “There were some shepherds, and they’re looking after their sheep. Where shall they be in the house?”—
—and put them somewhere in the house / same with the wise men. The fun thing about the wise men is—you can have them coming closer and closer to the nativity, every day you move them, until they arrive at the nativity on the—you know—
Bob: —on Christmas; yes.
Sally: Yes; so you can—I think it’s making it interactive and, certainly, not making it a lesson. I think that’s my—I would say that: “Don’t make it into a lesson. Enjoy the story, because the story is so powerful.” And there are lots of resources. You don’t have to—I mean, obviously, reading the biblical account is wonderful; and then read other ways to look at it so that you come at it from different angles. There are all kinds of—
Dennis: Yes; that’s what I was thinking about. Your book, Song of the Stars, fits in with what Barbara has created for this Christmas—the names of Christ Adorenaments® in stars / His eternal names.
Barbara: Well, my dream has been to create something that would help families teach their children who Jesus is, because Christmas is about Jesus. And so I’ve created this set of ornaments—that each one is a different name of Jesus.
This year, it is stars; and I’ve written a piece about following the star—that’s what the wise men did. I think—you know, to hitchhike off what we were just saying / you said a few minutes ago—that asking questions is the way to prime your audience. I think, for parents—whether you’re hanging the ornaments on the tree about Jesus and His names or whether you’re reading the book—the more you can engage with your kids and ask them questions: “Why do you think it’s important that we know that Jesus is the Bright and Morning Star?” “What do you think the wise men were thinking when they traveled? How long did it take them to get here?”—make it be something that engages their imagination and their thinking. They are much more likely to, not just remember the story, but want to hear it again; because it was intriguing.
Bob: I’d just say, “If you’ll sit quiet and listen, we’ll have figgy pudding when it’s over; okay?” [Laughter]
Sally: And they’ll run a mile! [Laughter]
The other thing I think I’ve—
Dennis: Forget the figgy pudding; let’s have some of this British pudding! [Laughter] I thought it was Christmas pudding!
Sally: Are you not paying attention, Dennis?
Dennis: I thought you said Christmas pudding.
Sally: Well, no—
Barbara: She did say Christmas pudding.
Sally: They’re both one and the same.
Dennis: Oh really?!
Dennis: I didn’t catch that!
Sally: Dickens had figgy pudding.
Bob: [Singing] “Now bring us our figgy pudding, now bring us our figgy pudding”—
Dennis: I didn’t equate that with Christmas pudding that she described that had all the liquor in it.
Sally: I’m sorry about this figgy pudding; it’s really bringing the show down. [Laughter]
I was going to mention another great idea, I think, that I’ve seen people do is—like with Song of the Stars for instance—I’ll give that as an example. I do the same thing—I talk about, you know: “The sheep knew,” “The lambs knew, and the Great Shepherd.” So, you could take one day—the Great Shepherd—and then put some beautiful Christmas music on and have your children draw sheep or just spend some time together focusing on sheep. Then, another day, you could talk about the lion knew He was coming—the Lion of Judah. So then, you could draw lions and put on more music.
I think the more you can engage the different senses and have them creating their own art—and those could become Advent calendars / they could become ornaments—
Barbara: I agree.
Bob: Trust me, those are things that, 20 years from now, you’ll pull out of a file and just delight over.
Barbara: Absolutely; absolutely.
Bob: In fact—
Dennis: And in fact, the kids will be fighting over them.
Bob: Well, just recently—when our kids were young, our son, David, had a little bit of a flair for art. When he was ten, he did our Christmas card—it was his drawing of the nativity that we sent out as our Christmas card that year—same as when he was eleven.
Well, David’s married now. His wife just saw the Christmas cards and she said, “I want those!” And we’re going: “No; those belong to Mom and Dad. [Laughter] You have to get him to draw you some new ones.” [Laughter] But it is that kind of a delightful recollection of what Christmas was about, as a child, that you’ll look forward to years from now.
Dennis: Well, regardless—this Christmas, enjoy the moment.
Dennis: Celebrate the Savior and don’t miss the reason for the season.
Bob: And Sally is not able to come to your home, but her books are; and of course, we have her books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center—the Christmas story, Song of the Stars; her book, Found, which is the 23rd Psalm for children; and then, of course, The Jesus Storybook Bible. Find out more about what’s available to read to your children when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
And while you’re there, look at the resources Barbara has been developing for families at Christmas as well, including her new set of Christmas tree ornaments that talk about the eternal names of Jesus. Again, it’s all available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you have any questions or if you’d like to order by phone: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, as we’re now a few weeks away from the end of 2017, we’ve started to look back at how God has been at work through the ministry of FamilyLife Today in the last 12 months:
Dennis wrote a book called Choosing a Life that Matters that was released earlier this year; we’ve seen more people attending Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways; we’ve added new cities, and the average attendance is up at our events. There is more hunger than ever for practical biblical help and hope for marriage and family. We’ve seen more people coming to FamilyLifeToday.com, our website, getting easier access to articles, and audio, and video—they’re getting the help they need when they access our content.
And of course, our listeners—we’re hearing from new folks, every week, who are listening to FamilyLife Today and telling us how God is using this ministry in profound ways in their marriage and in their family. We’re grateful for all that God is doing through this ministry, and all of it has been enabled by a relatively small number of listeners—those of you who believe in the mission of this ministry and who want to see it expanded—want to see more people in your community and around the world helped.
We’re grateful for the partnership that we have with listeners, like you, who help support the ministry of FamilyLife®.
Of course, right now, as we’re approaching the end of 2017, this is a particularly good time to think about making a donation. Our friend, Michelle Hill, is here to explain why. Hello, Michelle.
Hey Bob, yes it is a good time to donate, which is what John from Los Altos California did…John called and took advantage of the matching fund?... and his donation was matched dollar for dollar...the reason it’s a good time Bob is that the matching is going to continue during December, up to a total of two million dollars! So a big thanks to folks like John and Diane and Leona and almost thirteen hundred other folks who’ve called and given over two hundred sixty five thousand dollars so far…we really appreciate you!
Thanks Bob…see you tomorrow
Bob: And it is easy to join us. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; you can call to donate—1-800-FL-TODAY—or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and the zip code is 72223. Thank you for the update, Michelle; and we’ll see you back tomorrow.
And we hope you’ll join us back tomorrow as well. Sally Lloyd-Jones will be with us again, and we’re going to continue to talk about how moms and dads can connect with their kids around biblical truth. I hope you can be with us for that conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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